Architect Chris Brandon believes the ideal California luxury beach house should complement rather than overpower its majestic natural surroundings.
Along Southern California’s coast, things can get a bit crowded…and by that, we’re talking about the boardwalk homes that border the beach. On one hand, you can’t blame those who have achieved their California dream for wanting to buy their little piece of heaven.
In fact, there are some beach towns where the story of that dream’s evolution is told by the decades in which the various luxury beach houses in California were built. In other clusters of homes, there’s a certain sameness and even datedness to the structures.
This is perhaps why one discreet couple in Newport Beach approached Chris Brandon of Brandon Architects about creating a large home that not only framed their outdoor surroundings along the city’s fabled beachfront and harbor, but also their personal indoor/outdoor lifestyle in ways that could withstand the test of time.
His first challenge in designing the 5,000-square-foot California boardwalk home was figuring out how it could fit in with the architecture of other homes in the area yet remain true to the clients who commissioned it. As his firm specializes in designing luxury beach houses in California, mostly located on or near the water, he deals with the same concerns at the start of every project, including addressing community concerns, building codes and the procurement of materials that will visually and physically withstand years of salt and moisture to create a framework for a space that perfectly balancing form and function.
“This project started out being slightly controversial,” Brandon confides. “Our client bought the property on which Buddy Ebsen—Barnaby Jones and Beverly Hillbillies—
built and lived in for many years. While it was an attractive boardwalk home, it didn’t take advantage of the amazing location and had reached the end of its lifecycle as a livable space. Some residents were disappointed to see it come down.
“However, as the project neared completion we had overwhelming support and appreciation for what had been done. Although our primary goal is to have happy clients who are thrilled with their home throughout the process and years to come, we also try to be very good stewards of design and socially responsible designers of our built environment.”
Brandon then details the individual elements that would ultimately render the home as something that could transcend trends and be adapted to any future changes the owners’ vision of the California lifestyle will undergo. While it is hard to say where boardwalk home trends and homeowners’ lifestyles will head in the future, his intention to create something that could be readily refreshed every ten years was another goal.
“This is what we struggle with every day,” Brandon continues. “For this client, we started with a classic luxury California beach house aesthetic, including white clapboard siding, stone veneer and decorative finish carpentry. Next, we added touches that straddled modern and traditional sensibilities, such as the steel windows and doors and the standing seam metal roofing.
There’s been a fairly recent trend for waterfront homes to have three floors. While it can be done, it results in lower ceiling heights and an out-of-scale character to the existing pattern of development. To remedy this problem for the client, we brought in a third floor, but placed it farther back and in the middle of the lot to allow for an expansive roof deck to sit behind the roofline. This allows the client to enjoy the amazing views and extra entertaining space from that level without ruining the look of the boardwalk home from the water.”
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Brandon goes on to explain that copper roofing, once very popular for luxury beach house construction in California, can oxidize very quickly. For this reason, he, along with Patterson Custom Homes, opted for Kynar-painted aluminum exterior metal for the roofing, flashing and gutters that would remain black for the life of the home. Complimentary powder-coated light fixtures were then added, in lieu of brass or stainless steel fixtures, which would not endure through constant weather changes. An open floor plan was also an essential part of the design.
“This home has a very modern, open floor plan that is disguised behind a timeless design,” he says. “Even with that, we managed to have a view of Newport Harbor from almost every room in the house. The ceilings are tall, and there’s tons of natural light that pours in from beautiful steel doors and windows, which open up the California boardwalk home towards the harbor and allow in mid-day and late afternoon sun, even during the cooler months of the year.
There’s also a central courtyard, which provides more private outdoor living on the ground level as well as bringing light and air to the interior of the home. The interior design, devised with the help of Malia Grippo and her team at Tru Studio, plays expertly on this lightness and airiness with a wonderful color palette and rich materials extend the feel of basking in the sun indoors.”
Much of the living space in the home skirts the harbor side of the main level, with pocket doors that open the interior into the patio, boardwalk, harbor and private courtyard. The entertainment room and rooftop balcony have private spaces, and yet also take full advantage of the idyllic Southern California luxury beach house aesthetic, scenery and sunshine.
The kitchen, meanwhile, is tailored precisely for the couple, whose lifestyle includes cooking and entertaining. It features a large island, a sizable pantry and a small desk space. Three secondary bedrooms, a master suite with his-and-her closets, laundry, mudroom and a bonus room round out the welcoming expanse
“Open floor plans are not going anywhere soon, natural light will probably stay vogue indefinitely, and that view is never going out of style.”
“Open floor plans are not going anywhere soon, natural light will probably stay vogue indefinitely, and that view is never going out of style,” Brandon muses. “This look was born out of a desire to have a California luxury beach house with a timeless character and updated transitional elements that would fit a fun, functional and casual beach lifestyle for years to come.
What made the California boardwalk home project even more of a dream was that our clients and I were all on the same page from the get-go. We always try to seek a timeless look at each of our homes. Certain trends will come and go but I believe good designs are rooted in a classic architectural language, such as proper form, massing, rhythm, order and scale will always be appealing.”
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“I would hope that this home would be seen by many as a good example of inevitable change and custom residential development done right.”
As Brandon sees it, like other builders and architects like Desert Star Construction and Candelaria Design, he’s not just designing good living space for the good of his clients, but also for the broader communities where the homes stand. He drives the point home by stressing that everybody is impacted by the community’s visual appeal—like communities with boardwalk homes— as a whole and not just one place where an individual or family lives.
“Architects have a responsibility to recognize that and try to do better,” he affirms. “I would hope that this home would be seen by many as a good example of inevitable change and custom residential development done right.”
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